Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities

Purpose and Focus

To better address the problems and challenges faced by small towns in Iowa and the Midwest, the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa launched the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) in 2009. IISC’s purpose is to enhance the capacity of towns, cities, and counties in Iowa, as well as elsewhere in the Midwest, to better become sustainable communities. By sustainability, we employ the standard definition of sustainability as enabling current generations to meet their social, economic, and environmental needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. More specifically, sustainability entails efforts to protect and preserve the environment, while both encouraging economic prosperity and the equitable distribution of economic and social opportunity.

Increasingly, communities in Iowa and the Midwest face a crisis of sustainability. A number of major forces affect these towns and their sustainability:

  • declining employment opportunities in Midwestern manufacturing and agriculture
  • the decline of local food systems
  • the need for new renewable energy sources such as wind
  • the decline of the family farm, which reduces the population that is served by small towns
  • expansion of industrial agriculture and the impacts it has on the environment, including water quality
  • increasing effects of global climate change making communities more susceptible to extreme weather events such as floods
  • large-scale meatpacking operations which come to dominate local economies in ways that make small towns highly vulnerable to the decisions of one or two companies in their community
  • increased reliance by meatpacking industries on labor from Latin America, thereby creating demographic change that challenges communities to learn to accommodate language and other differences while ensuring that all residents have equal access to the educational, economic, and environmental opportunities in their communities

IISC’s purpose is to apply the talent and knowledge of the students and faculty of the University of Iowa to develop plans and initiatives that will enable Iowa’s small towns and cities to enhance the sustainability of their communities. In doing so, IISC provides significant and ongoing outreach to Iowa’s communities, while transforming teaching and learning at the University of Iowa by engaging students in a student-faculty-community collaboration that is focused on some of the most important problems faced by communities in Iowa and the Midwest. At the same time, University of Iowa faculty will be able to use this opportunity to advance scholarship on sustainability in their various disciplines and fields. The end result will be to greatly enhance the University of Iowa’s reputation for advancing sustainability scholarship, teaching, and community outreach.

During the 2009-2010 academic year, 27 graduate students assisted four Iowa communities in developing sustainability plans. These cities are Decorah, Anamosa, Wellman, and Columbus Junction. In Decorah, students worked closely with a citizens group, We Can Decorah, to promote energy conservation and the use of environmentally friendly storm water drainage techniques. In Anamosa, students also worked with a citizen’s organization, Vision Anamosa, whose focus is on generating redevelopment concepts and plans for downtown Anamosa. In Wellman, students worked with the city manager and city council to develop a comprehensive sustainability plan for the community. In Columbus Junction, students worked with a local citizens group, Keep Columbus Beautiful, to coordinate a series of Earth Day 2010 events that attracted resident participation from throughout that community.

Anamosa Vision Anamosa Working Together for the Future 3.9 MB
Columbus Junction The Making of the 2010 Keep Columbus Beautiful Earth Day Celebration 945.97 KB
Decorah Decorah WE CAN Final Report 2.79 MB
Wellman Wellman Sustainability Plan 2.86 MB